Written by Jan Ransom
Benjamin Brafman, the high-powered lawyer who was poised to defend Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein against rape and sexual assault allegations in New York, plans to withdraw from the case, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
Brafman will inform the court of his decision to withdraw as counsel for Weinstein on Thursday, the person said. The move could potentially delay the trial, which was scheduled to begin in May in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.
The two men, each with a big personality, were reportedly at odds recently after Weinstein began reaching out to other lawyers to beef up his defense team before the trial, angering Brafman.
Losing Brafman could prove to be a major blow to Weinstein’s defense. Brafman, a former Manhattan prosecutor, is considered to be among the best trial lawyers in New York City. He is known for his disarming sense of humor, quick wit and skillful cross-examinations. His clients have included mobsters, drug dealers and celebrities like Jay-Z and Michael Jackson.
Brafman successfully defended Sean Combs, the rap star and producer known as P. Diddy, against gun possession and bribery charges in 2001. He also staved off a sexual assault allegation lodged against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund in 2011. Then four years later, Brafman persuaded the Manhattan district attorney’s office not to file charges against Sanford Rubenstein, a lawyer who was at the center of a sexual assault investigation.
But Brafman was not able to get charges dropped for all of his clients. In 2017, jurors convicted Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical executive notorious for price gouging.
Weinstein and his spokesman, Juda Engelmayer, declined to comment Tuesday night.
In a profile of Brafman published online by Esquire on Tuesday, Brafman described Weinstein as a “hands-on client” who had sought advice from others about his soon-to-be former lawyer’s strategy.
Brafman told Esquire that Weinstein was the “type of guy who gets a second opinion on his tuna salad,” and that he could take the abuse from the ex-producer.
Last month, Justice James Burke of state Supreme Court in Manhattan declined to dismiss the charges against Weinstein. He is due back in court March 7.
In October, the same judge dismissed one of the charges against Weinstein related to an accuser, Lucia Evans, a marketing executive. The charge was dismissed after prosecutors learned that the lead detective, Nicholas DiGaudio, had withheld information that he obtained from a witness who provided a conflicting account. (A union representing the detective maintains he had provided the information to prosecutors.)
Weinstein, 66, still faces five charges related to two other women based on allegations he raped one woman and performed oral sex on another against her will. The remaining charges include two counts of predatory sexual assault, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Weinstein has denied the allegations and has said the relationships were consensual.
After the judge declined to dismiss the case against him, Weinstein wrote in an email to several of his close friends in December that he had “one hell of a year,” and called it “the worst nightmare of my life.”
Brafman and Engelmayer said then that the emails from Weinstein were not part of a larger legal strategy, but the producer’s defense team vigorously fought the charges against him and sought to counteract the negative publicity in the past several months. Brafman seized on a number of errors made by DiGaudio, the lead detective, during a time when the case appeared to be fraying. Brafman filed motions that included emails that he said suggested the relationships between Weinstein and his accusers were consensual.
More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual assault or harassment, and the allegations helped inspire the global #MeToo movement.
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